By on October 11, 2013

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The United States Department of Energy will today auction off Fisker Automotive’s loan from the federal government, on which the moribund hybrid car startup defaulted. Last month the department said that it would hold the auction after “exhausting any realistic possibility” that it could recoup all of the $168 million still that Fisker still owes.

 

Purchasing the debt could be the first step to revive Fisker, which hasn’t built any cars in over a year. The company hasn’t yet gone through bankruptcy, as investors are covering its day to day expenses, but it cannot pay millions of dollars in outstanding bills and it has laid off most of its employees. Company founder designer Henrik Fisker, resigned last March, citing differences of opinion on the company’s future.

Though the federal government is currently undergoing a partial shutdown, the auction will proceed as planned today.Bidders had until Monday of this week to tell the DoE that they planned to make an offer. To qualify to bid, potential buyers had to offer at least $30 million, with a mandatory 10% down payment when placing the bid. That would be the least part of restarting Fisker, which analysts say could cost a half billion dollars or more. Fisker Automotive and the law firm handling its restructuring, Kirkland & Ellis, could not be reached for comment.

The winner of the bid process could be named as soon as next week. The DoE originally extended Fisker a credit line of $528 million under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program in 2009, but the department froze it in mid 2011 after Fisker failed to meet production benchmarks specified in the loan. Of the $528 million allocated, Fisker drew down $192 million before the freeze.

So far this year, at least three possible buyers of Fisker have surfaced. German investment group Fritz Nols AG, according to sources, was one of the companies that submitted a bid to the DoE. Another team that includes Bob Lutz and Chinese auto supplier Wanxiang Group also submitted a bid. That group had previously tried to buy the entire company for $20 million. It’s not clear if that attempt is related to VL Automotive, an enterprise of Lutz’s that’s selling the Destino, a Fisker Karma whose hybrid drivetrain has been replaced by a supercharged LS9 V8 as used in the Corvette ZR1. It’s also been rumored that Henrik Fisker might try to purchase the remains of his namesake company.

Buying the DoE loan would be just the first step in a long process to revive the company. Fisker currently owes suppliers about $80 million, including about $10 million owed to Valmet Automotive, a Finnish company that assembled the Karma under contract. Analysts say that restarting Karma production would cost at least $50 million and reviving the development of the Atlantic, Fisker’s proposed $50,000 sedan, would cost about half a billion dollars.

Any purchaser would also have to settle Fisker’s outstanding debts related to the former General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware where Fisker planned to build the Atlantic. The company owes about a million dollars in various local taxes and because it missed a deadline to pay, the company has forfeited a break on future county property taxes.

At the time this was posted, ~3:00 PM EST, there has been no news released about the auction results. The Department of Energy’s public affairs office is still operating during the partial government shutdown, TTAC has contacted that office, and we’ll update this post if they release any information by the close of business today.

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